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During the 2016/17 influenza season, influenza B/VIC lineage variant viruses emerged with two (KN) or three (KND) amino acid (aa) deletions in the haemagglutinin (HA) protein. There are currently five antigenically distinct HA proteins expressed by co-circulating influenza B viruses: B/YAM, B/VIC V1A (no deletion), B/VIC V1A-2DEL (2 aa deletion) and two antigenically distinguishable groups of B/VIC V1A-3DEL (3 aa deletion). The prevalence of these viruses differs across geographical regions, making it critical to have a sensitive, rapid diagnostic assay that detects and distinguishes these influenza B variant viruses during surveillance.


Our objective was to develop a real-time RT-PCR (rRT-PCR) assay for detection and discrimination of influenza B/VIC lineage variant viruses.


We designed a diagnostic assay with one pair of conserved primers and three probes specific to each genetic group. We used propagated influenza B/VIC variant viruses and clinical specimens to assess assay performance.


This rRT-PCR assay detects and distinguishes the influenza B/VIC V1A, B/VIC V1A-2DEL, and B/VIC V1A-3DEL variant viruses, with no cross-reactivity. This assay can be run as a multiplex reaction, allowing for increased testing efficiency and reduced cost.


Coupling this assay with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Human Influenza Virus Real-Time RT-PCR Diagnostic Panel Influenza B Lineage Genotyping Kit results in rapid detection and characterisation of circulating influenza B viruses. Detailed surveillance information on these distinct influenza B variant viruses will provide insight into their prevalence and geographical distribution and could aid in vaccine recommendations.


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